Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the International Conference on Small Island Developing States
Statement to the Business and Industry and Other Major Group Representatives Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China at the Luncheon hosted by China Energy Fund Committee
18 March 2013, Hong Kong
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me special pleasure to visit Hong Kong and share with you my perspectives on recent activities of the United Nations in sustainable development.
Since I joined the United Nations last August, I have been asked again and again– what is the UN doing these days?
I am sure many of you have a similar question in mind.
Instead of giving you a detailed answer, let me share with you some interesting figures. The United Nations:
- Keeps peace with 120,000 peacekeepers in 16 operations on 4 continents;
- Protects and promotes human rights on site and through some 80 treaties/declarations
- Advances democracy, assisting some 30 countries a year with their elections;
- Assists over 36 million refugees and people fleeing war, famine or persecution;
- Mobilizes US$12.4 billion in humanitarian aid to help people affected by emergencies;
- Provides food to 90 million people in 73 countries, to help them fight hunger and starvation;
- Vaccinates 58 per cent of the world’s children, saving 2.5 million lives a year;
- Combats climate change;
- Heads a campaign to end leaded fuel use in over 100 nations;
- Fights poverty, helping 370 million rural poor achieve better lives in the last 30 years;
- Promotes maternal health, saving the lives of 30 million women a year.
These figures tell a simple story about the United Nations. It maintains global peace and security, provides emergency aid, fights poverty, promotes human rights, advances women’s and children’s health, and protects the environment.
In short, the UN is trying to secure a sustainable world for today’s generation, and a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
If not everyone is aware of what the UN is doing, it is not surprising. We as a society tend to focus more on the immediate and the local.
We as a society tend to neglect the economic and social disparities; and we tend to take Planet Earth for granted.
The Rio+20 Conference last June rang the alarm. It reminded world leaders that our problems are inter-linked. If we are to tackle the crises facing our world today, we need to think both locally and globally, and take both short-term and long-term measures.
At the global level, the Rio+20 Conference successfully galvanized the political will to balance economic, social and environmental goals.
Let me take a moment to say a few more words about Rio+20, because its follow-up is a big task for the UN system today.
The Rio+20 Conference was characterized by two features – broad engagement and participation by stakeholders, and action-oriented decisions.
There was active participation from Governments, international organizations, business, NGOs and civil society groups (referred to as Major Groups in Agenda 21).
Over 50,000 people participated in the Conference, the largest event ever organized by the United Nations.
The outcomes of Rio+20 are multi-dimensional. Highlights include:
- Sustainable Development Goals: The decision to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals is a major outcome. The SDGs will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post 2015 development agenda – I will come back to post-2015 later on in my remarks.
- Green Economy: The Conference adopted ground-breaking guidelines on green economy policies.
- Means of Implementation (MOI): Member States decided to establish an intergovernmental process under the General Assembly to prepare options on a strategy for sustainable development financing.
- Governments agreed to strengthen UNEP on several fronts, including its universal membership.
- Member States also agreed to establish a high-level political forum for sustainable development.
On thematic and cross-sectoral issues, the Conference took some decisive measures on energy, food security, oceans, cities, and decided to convene a Third International Conference on SIDS in 2014. The UN Secretary-General has kindly designated me the Conference Secretary-General of this Conference, which will take place in Samoa.
As an innovative outcome, the Secretariat registered 718 voluntary commitments with an estimated value of US$514 billion. The number of these voluntary commitments has now reached 1400.
Clearly, Rio + 20 was also a landmark for the involvement of business and industry, as well as other major groups.
The outcome document of the conference recognizes that all Major Groups must play an active role in realizing the future we want.
For example, paragraph 47 of the outcome document, on corporate sustainability reporting, encourages industry, interested governments and relevant stakeholders – with support of the UN system – to develop, share and promote best practices in this area.
Better and more transparent information on corporate sustainability serves both society and shareholders.
My Department served as the Secretariat for the Conference. We will be looking forward to working with the business community, foundations and civil society groups in Hong Kong to implement the outcomes of Rio+20.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me now turn to the post-2015 development agenda – another major task of the UN system in advancing sustainable development.
As we approach the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations is also working very hard to develop a framework that will take us beyond 2015.
Building on the achievements of the MDGs, as well as their unfinished agenda, the post-2015 development agenda will address both social and economic and environmental issues, and will be applied to all UN member States.
In other words, as agreed at Rio, the UN post-2015 agenda must have sustainable development at its core.
As I mentioned earlier, a key outcome of Rio + 20 was the agreement by Member States to develop a set of global sustainable development goals (SDGs) that apply to all countries and incorporate, in a balanced way, the three dimensions of sustainable development and their inter-linkages.
The SDGs offer the opportunity for transformative change. They can help the international community move decisively onto a truly sustainable development path.
Rio+20 invited us to integrate – in the form of the SDGs – the concerns for people and our planet.
The SDGs should be: action oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries.
This, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development, as well as respecting national policies and priorities.
It is really too early to say what the SDGs will look like. However, there is a sense that they should cover:
- food security and sustainable agriculture;
- water and sanitation;
- energy; education and health;
- climate change; management of natural resources;
- employment; gender; sustainable consumption and production;
- sustainable cities; oceans and seas;
- disaster reduction; biodiversity; equity; and
- means of implementation.
An intergovernmental working group of 30 members has been set up under the United Nations General Assembly to develop the SDGs. The process of developing these goals is now integrated with efforts to develop the United Nations post 2015 development framework.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Business and industry and other major groups can help ensure the success of the post-2015 development agenda.
This can be done by further incorporating social and environmental factors into managerial accounting, in addition to the traditional financial factors.
In the future, development assistance must continue to target the poorest and most vulnerable people, wherever they are. However, development needs are so large that ODA must be complemented by private and public domestic and foreign investment, as well as public-private partnerships and voluntary commitments.
This is where I hope that the business community and other stakeholders in Hong Kong can make greater contributions.
You have the human and financial resources, the knowledge and the capacity, and the experience that can be harnessed to help integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development, through a balanced pursuit of economic, social and environmental objectives.
We at the United Nations count on you for your leadership and commitment.
I had planned on speaking for about 10 minutes, and I believe I have exceeded that limit.
In conclusion, allow me to encourage all of you in business and other Major Groups of society to be part of the Rio+20 and Post-2015 development agenda.
Register with the United Nations your concrete voluntary initiatives to promote sustainable development.
The United Nations is doing a lot, but we cannot achieve our goals alone. We need you as partners. We share the same planet. We are members of the same global village.
Help us in making our world a better one. Help us in leaving to our children and grandchildren a better future.